The Jacksonville Jaguars begin their 2016 training camp today and we're looking forward to how a defense that could feature more new faces than old will start to gel together.
Mike Dempsey of 1010XL's Jaguars Today radio show posed an interesting question this week that we thought could be a good roundtable discussion.
Each of us gave our answers below. What do you think is the most important thing for the Jaguars to accomplish in training camp this year?
The Jaguars need to figure out what they're doing on the offensive line. I think it's safe to say that center to the right is set with Brandon Linder, A.J. Cann and Jermey Parnell. With Kelvin Beachum allegedly being ready to practice when training camp starts, the Jaguars will be further along in deciding the last two spots than most people thought they would be a few weeks ago. If Beachum can show he's healthy and has nothing holding him back with his knee, I think it's safe to bet he will be the starting left tackle. The big question will be at left guard and will it be Luke Joeckel or Mackenzy Bernadeau. I tend to think Bernadeau will end up winning the position, mostly because I don't really believe in Joeckel moving inside, but also because Joeckel has yet to even try to make that transition to guard. He's already behind in that regard, because he's competing with a guy who's started at guard at the NFL level.
Figuring out the starting five early in training camp and the preseason is very important for the team getting a fast start. The big focus for a lot of people will be the defense, naturally, but the offensive line getting itself figured out and a few games together in the preseason will go a long way for the tough start to the season.
The Jaguars need to establish a defensive identity. Dave Caldwell sounded like a broken record this spring, reinforcing the idea that defense is easier to fix than offense. So prove it. The talent is in place, the surface-level roster is fast, and the secondary is built. There are a lot of fresh faces within that starting defense.
Hell, Paul Posluszny stepped up to the podium on Wednesday afternoon and called a few of those faces elite.
So I want to see that group establish an elite identity. Get Jalen Ramsey into a rhythm. Get Tashaun Gipson going. Get Myles Jack situated somewhere within that linebacker core -- even if that means that Telvin Smith has to come off the field. Most importantly, cut through all of that LEO, OTTO, and LOTTO bullshit and start playing NFL football. Gus Bradley finally has the talent, so it's imperative that the defense finally establishes that identity that they have been preaching for three seasons.
As cliche as it sounds, the Jaguars just need both their key players and their depth to manage to stay *relatively* healthy. When you run down the list of injured Jaguars who are cleared to practice this week, it shows you just how much of the team's success will hinge on their health.
Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Dante Fowler, Kelvin Beachum, Julius Thomas, Brandon Linder, Marqise Lee..The list could go extend, but this just shows how many key players on the team need a clean bill of health.
Every team in the NFL is going to have injury issues. The difference is how much those injury issues affect the top half of your roster. If the Jaguars can get through the next few weeks without being hit by the injury bug as hard as they have been in the past, it is a win.
The Jaguars (desperately) need someone to step up and be the edge rusher opposite Dante Fowler. I don't care if it's Yannick Ngakoue, Tyrone Holmes or some hybrid LEO-OTTO-LOTTO-SCRATCH OFF player like Dan Skuta or Ryan Davis. All I care about is the Jaguars having a plan in place (or several plans to try out) and seeing how well it works in the preseason.
My gut says it's most likely going to be Ngakoue. Other than Fowler, he's the player they invested the most in to be an edge rusher and he was brought here solely for that reason. He's not a balanced end who can play the run and pass equally well... he was brought here because he had potential as a rusher off the edge. My hope is that the Jaguars figure something out as it pertains to an edge rusher opposite Fowler. My unrealistic ideal is that it's Yannick and that Holmes can be good enough to stick around as depth for both Fowler and Yannick.
*busy at training camp*
The obvious answer, to me, is to have all the youth and new faces on defense begin to gel prior to entering the regular season. All of the talent in the world is a good thing, but if they are not on the same page regarding coverages, scheme, plays, and assignments, then there will be struggles. It is going to be extremely important to have these guys getting as many full-speed reps as possible, as a unit, in training camp and the preseason so that the early struggles are mitigated as much as possible come week one. The talent, though, is there.
The less obvious answer, however, also has to do with the gelling of a unit. Get your mind out of the gutter and into the trenches -- specifically, the offensive line.
There are going to be new players in new positions on the offensive line this year. Gone is Stefen Wisniewski, who called protections last year. Enter Brandon Linder, who by all indications has the physical skills to be a very good center for a long time, but who is also coming off injury. Now he's going to be the one in charge of calling protections, and getting the offensive line on the same page each snap.
The issue, to me, is we are not really even sure yet as to who the starting five on the offensive line will be. We have an idea, but there are a lot of moving parts yet to settle as we head into camp. It is going to be extremely important for the offensive line to grow together as a unit, prior to the start of the regular season. I think there needs to be, and will be, and intense focus on accomplishing this goal. Lucky for us, offensive line coach Doug Marrone is one of the best in the business.
The offense was as explosive last year as its maybe ever been, but the Jaguars still finished 5-11. Blake Bortles was sacked a lot, and we often struggled to get the running game going. Much of the blame was focused on the offensive line. It needs to get better.
In order for the Jaguars to take the next step towards being a playoff team, I think the offensive line needs to take one of the biggest next steps. Yet, that unit remains the one with the biggest question marks as camp starts.
So to answer the question, we need to have the offensive line figured out, and gelling as a unit by the time Week 1 rolls around. If they do this, then look out AFC South.